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by Bill Gibron

20 Jul 2008

They are not supervillians. They are not some cartoon-clad combatants looking to make the life of the Caped Crusader a living graphic novel Hell. They don’t hold the fate of the world in their hands - as a matter of fact, within their chosen profession, many believe they barely matter in the marketplace of ideas. When you’ve got a messageboard community that senses they set the benchmark for all movie discussion, what does a mere cadre of critics have to offer? That’s right, Gotham’s Most Wanted is not a clown faced murderer, a fire-scarred ex-DA, a burlap masked pharmaceutical loon, or a disgruntled world criminal. No, it turns out that Batman’s biggest enemy - and by indirect linkage, the biggest bane of fanboy existence - are the 12 journalists (and holding) who gave The Dark Knight a bad review.

Now, there is nothing wrong with voicing one’s opinion. By its very nature, film criticism is a contrite exercise in singular self-expression. Sure, we reviewers try to measure the medium against its past while taking the demographic and intended market motivations into consideration. And when you think about (if you think about it), Peter Travers or Roger Ebert aren’t really putting all of cinema into perspective. They are giving you a glorified judgment call on how they spent 90 to 150 minutes in a darkened theater. Thumbs up? Thumbs down. Sometimes, the experience is wonderful. On rare occasions, it’s a test of one’s personal tolerances. But for the most part, movie journalism is a journey into sustained mediocrity, either end of the decision spectrum being the true rarity. 

It shouldn’t be a surprise that the current meter rating for The Dark Knight over at Rotten Tomatoes.com sits at 94%. Out of 198 recorded articles, 186 have given the film a positive or “fresh” evaluation. The other 12 are listed as “rotten”, though how many of that dozen could actually be considered an outright dismissal of the movie is up for question. What’s even more amazing, between these dissenting voices, there are almost 2600 angry comments attached to their work (2538 as of 20 July). Like many websites, RT uses the ability to interact (a sham delineation - more on this in a moment) to drive hits and stimulate page views. The concept goes a little something like this: disgruntled/happy reader lets critic/bastard know how right/wrong he or she is, then visits repeatedly to see if anyone agrees/disagrees and if, miracle of miracles, the subject decided to talk back.

Now, the notion of interactivity has always been the ‘Net’s biggest carnival bark, a fallacy articulation that doesn’t really mean what the blinders drawn believers feel it does. For them, the sound of their own voice is apparently communication enough. Comments do not foster a conversation, since for the most part, they are declarative or assertive in nature. Picture it this way - you and your best friend are hanging out, having a few beers, when the subject of Salma Hayek comes up. You believe she’s hot. Your pal thinks otherwise. The WWW version of the dialogue would go a little something like this:

“Salma Hayek is HOT!”

“Salma Hayek is NOT HOT”

“SALMA HAYEK IS TOO HOT, (EXPLETIVE DELETED) (Various Emoticons)”

“(EXPLETIVE DELETED) YOU (EXPLETIVE DELETED) (Various Emoticons)”

Not really the Algonquin Round Table when you think about it. Of course, within the context of said exchange, a great deal of spoken subtext and interpersonal reaction is missing. A one or two sentence statement at the end of a review is not really a tête-à-tête, and should never be thought of as same. It’s more like the chant at a soccer match, or the applause/razzberries at a live performance. Aside from the self-aggrandizing element (most comments are more about the person than the piece they’re challenging), these exchanges are reminiscent of Monty Python’s Argument Clinic - the automatic nay-saying of anything the other side has to say.

Proof of this arrives when you look at the Dark Knight consensus. The 12 negative reviews have an average of 211 replies each. The lowest has 77. The highest taps out at 365. On the positive side of the situation, the standard is much, much smaller. Many favorable reviews have no comments, while others have garnered upwards of 30 or 40. A rough estimate would therefore be somewhere in the range of 5 to 7 replies each. Of course, there are aberrations. Two critics in particular warrant responses in the hundreds, but upon closer inspection, the reason becomes apparent - their reviews are less than glowing, and are very critical of the film overall while pointing to elements that allow them to recommend the experience. These are not the glowing raves the community requires, and thus the increase in reactions.

Those under the rejection radar have been eager to defend themselves, calling the web a “hotbed of immaturity” where “mob mentality” rules beyond clear critical thinking. Of course, that’s specious logic, since it suggests that the 186 critics who loved the film are just as out of the loop as the complainers. Clearly, the vast majority of those employed in a professional (or semi-professional) capacity as film journalists believe The Dark Knight to be something very special, so dismissing group opinion when a completely contradictory example of same stares you right in the interface seems baseless. It makes about as much sense as having someone who loved the movie complaining that mass consensus means their own feelings are less valid.

Being the odd man out, especially with something that is (at this point) fairly well received, means that you have to be prepared to take the slings and arrows that come with said status. It applies in either circumstance - this critic loved both Rob Zombie’s remake of Halloween and the Wachowski’s recent Speed Racer, and the vitriol still hasn’t ebbed. So if you can’t stand the heat, get out from behind the typewriter, so to speak. But the unusual thing about The Dark Knight discussion (at least on the web) was that much of the hate started BEFORE the film was released. Critics like David Denby of The New Yorker, David Edelstein of New York Magazine, and Marshall Fine of Star Magazine had their reviews up on the Monday before the film was released. Yet within hours, each had dozens of dissenters, all arguing in favor of a movie they had yet to see.

The need for such an outsized defense of a yet to be released film may help explain why there is so much eventual anger against those who have failed to fall under Christopher Nolan’s spell. While the current media message is that critics don’t matter, it is clear that those personally invested in their favorite franchise want very few raindrops on the days before their parade appears. To argue that someone’s negative opinion is invalid, even without being able to ascertain your own verdict on the subject, smacks of a pathetic preemptive strike. Discredit the messenger in case the message turns out to be true, right? Even better, the Internet now fosters a kind of universality when it comes to ability. A few years sitting in front of the VCR/DVD player has turned everyone into a film expert. Bashing those with a few more career credentials under their belt is just another means of making your unqualified point.

Now, this is not to say that every critic is an authority. Some voices are so limited in their purview that they automatically dismiss specific genres or certain actors. But one of the things that a journalist can say - print or online - is that, if doing their job correctly, they consistently see a larger variety of films. Within any 52 week span, a reviewer can go through 200 general and limited releases, and that’s before DVD and other media outlets (such as Pay Per View) offer more options. Within that array are foreign films, documentaries, independents without certain distribution, and other outside the Netflix queue offerings. When said individual decides to dissent from the standard sentiment on a film, one hopes they do it with said perspective ready and articulated. And they typically do.

Sure, some are dismissive just to be different, to be the one who “hated” ET or “loved” the latest Uwe Boll movement. But for the most part, the reaction you see ‘blurbed’ as part of a Rotten Tomato or other summarization is just that - a reaction. It’s how the person saw the film at the moment, and there is little doubt that said subjection would change with time or another viewing. Being outside the mainstream view is not a bad thing, just a curious one. If 195 critics (and the Academy) felt that No Country for Old Men was worth honoring, what did the 11 people who disliked it see that they didn’t? And better yet, how do the 19 people who enjoyed The Love Guru defend themselves against the 108 who hated it?

The answer to such questions begs the original issue. Should someone who panned The Dark Knight be subject to such outsized fury, especially when those complaining were without the proper evidence (i.e. an actual screening) to back up their bashing? Certainly, once the naysayers saw the film, all bets are off. The Internet continues to provide this sham suggestion of interactivity, and therefore comments become the necessary evil that arrives with the new medium’s territory. As long as the business model supports such a hit driven divisiveness, situations such as this one will become more and more prominent (say, when Watchmen arrives in eight months?).

Still, do the Gotham 12 deserve the wrath they received? Why are these critics, and this film, becoming such a cultural lighting rod? It appears like, as print continues its cost-cutting, job eliminating ways, and the web decries its own self-styled position as the latest post-modern example of McLuhan’s laws, more of these circumstances are likely. As it stands, film journalists from foreign countries frequently find racial slurs and other ethnic slams as part of the comment section of their blog/review entries. Maybe it’s the growing pains that accompany any major expression shift. Perhaps we are seeing the calm before the storm before the readjustment. It could just be that, in the world of populist cinema, the geek will countermand the Establishment whenever they feel the need.

Whatever the case, the dozen (and possibly more) negative views of The Dark Knight is just part of an overall commercial phenomenon. Like the film itself, it will take time to see if it has legs, or merely represents a blip on what is frequently an overanalyzed and overhyped event. In the film, good guy Harvey Dent says something very prophetic to Bruce Wayne. “You either die a hero,” he articulates, “or you live long enough to see yourself become a villain.” In the film criticism game, it’s clear that, in the minds of Generation Vexed, some journalists have overstayed their welcome. They’ve become the nemesis to the nu-media. Sadly, the film also makes it clear we get the very kind of champions we deserve. If those who use anonymous comments as a means of venting their own insular ire are the future, we may also need some kind of comic book superman to save us as well.

 

by tjmHolden

20 Jul 2008

Okay . . . I’ve seen the light. You can turn it off now.

That’s what I wanted to say by 21:30 in Stockholm. After about 30 hours in transit, I was ready for a spot of sleep. Only, my eyes couldn’t close. It being still too bright outside.

Even with the shades closed, there was no masking the fact that the burnt orange sun lingering on the cusp of the western panorama, was yet undecided about whether or not it wanted to set. Or, you know . . . perhaps just hang on the horizon for another 30 minutes.

Pillows pressed over my head, buried beneath the blankets, it felt like I had been consigned to live through the outtakes of Insomnia.

 


by Bill Gibron

19 Jul 2008

God, who apparently obsesses on Bootsy Collins a little too much, has a problem in his afterworld corporate structure. Seems mortal souls are having a hard time giving up the non-holy ghost, and without available deadites to finagle into heavenly worker bees, the Omnipresent CEO is experiencing a heavy staff shortage. So he makes deals with potential pearly gate crashers: they help the living kill themselves and as casualty catalysts, they become a welcomed part of His Mothership Connection. The latest recruits, a couple of dead Chicago goombahs, agree to travel back down to the plane of reality to help Tex, a sick Stetson stick figure, kill video artist Leon DeWilde.

Seems our elongated doogie puncher despises this girly generator of must die TV and his pouty, bib overall wearing “canvas” stretcher Ray. Leon is obsessed with death, so much so that he Betamaxes anything in the throes of imminent mortality and calls it Jasper Johns. But even with anger just a rootin’ tootin’ to rage, our slender vittle just can’t seem to off the cathode offender. So it’s up to God’s goodfellas to use their skills at roller boogie and gay bashing to bring cow and party poke together for a final Brooklyn style wild west showdown. But who is the victim and who will be the victee…oh wait. Only Allah, and his Angels, knows for sure.

Meanwhile, in that addled bastion of otherworldly ethereality and make believe, also known as Hollywood, young actresses named Sin and Heaven just can’t seem to get a job offer…acting, that is. When a policeman stops our Miss Afterlife Paradise, it’s love at first ogle. Typical of getting out of a ticket, Heaven gets out of her blouse, and after a night on top of her cloud nine Valhalla, the oppressed officer becomes wildly possessive. He wants to marry Heaven, or at least take her home to “Momma.” But she wants to be a legitimate film star, even though she looks like a lemur and speaks like Perini Scleroso.

Hoping to land a much sought after audition with local “producer” Mr. Salacity, the girls primp and preen and practice their self-gratifying improvisation skills. But all Mr. S wants is a little slice of vice and a long hard night in the valleys of the kingdom of God. After a picnic debacle that leaves the lecherous S soaking in his own secretions, Mr. Big Shot now won’t give the always-willing women the time of day. So our beauties concoct a plan to kidnap the moviemaker and fornicate him into providing Equity cards. And all the while we learn that, apparently, the Bible is wrong. No matter if you are a rich or righteous dude, it’s pretty damn easy Getting into Heaven.

What in the name of nudity possessed Harry Novak, purveyor of rather solid soft-core sex farces and champion of the grind house grift, to release Angels? It’s not like it’s so blasphemous or teeming with Last Temptation tawdriness that churchgoers would line up simply to denounce its non-depravity. While the notion of angels as God’s private assassins may seem a little outrageous, there is never once a slanderous shot taken at Jehovah or his need for contractual hit men (or women). Maybe Harry thought that, with the advent of Sheilds and Yarnell and Doug Henning, the world was ready for a movie co-starring wistful, effeminate manboys, one of which specializes in the deadest of ancient arts—the pantomime. Really, there is nothing here for or by or to remotely engorge the well-worn exploitation enthusiast.

The scorecard of carnality is putrid. There is a half-topless shot thirty minutes into the narrative, and some completely under the cover horizontal handsprings at the forty-five minute mark. But the rest of the movie is like one big long inferred homosexual brain buster, since the film is chockfull of gay imagery, queer suppositions, and way too many sequences of well-muscled mime. Sure, this could all be chalked up to the mid-‘70s retreat into an “anything with anyone goes” attitude that seemed to welcome disco and its 54 feyness right through the velvet ropes. But the movie just makes no sense as a sellable item. It doesn’t have anything novel or naughty to say about how the Lord works, either in mysterious or (as in this case) monotonous ways. And the avant-garde art angle of exploring entities on videotape the moment before they die sounds like a bad dream Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross once had.

Kind of like a bong hit version of Peeping Tom, Angels wants to say something cogent about accepting life after death via the Sony camcorder. Unfortunately, it does so with a Fire Island road company version of Godspell.

Getting into Heaven, on the other hand, gets its raunch and randy factors just right. While not a Novak product (with a title like that it really should be), simply repeating this movie’s marquee moniker will give you the gist, the grist, and the gravy of this seedy little sexcapade in a simple three word phrase. Then add the ample talents of one Uschi “Oh La La” Digart, and you’re in for a goofy delight that is funny as well as frisky. True, the male leads represent manliness at its most bereft of beefcake, but apparently it is easier to convince a paying audience of Everymen that hot babes would rotate their tires if the studs in seduction looked like feed store clerks. Still, there are also a many ribald reasons why Getting into Heaven really ratchets up the rug burns for the connoisseurs of curves.

While the notion of a full body snuggle with gallons of Vicks Vapo-rub seems a tad…how does one put this…mentholated?…the extended incident of Sin lathering up Heaven for a little “alternative” massage aromatherapy is guaranteed to enflame your sweetbreads and coldcock your bi-values. And when Uschi wants to, she can sell the sex act better than any standard, non-hardcore actress. Yes, she does occasionally look like a beaver in search of a good range of cedar to sink her choppers into, but more often she smolders with a fire down below burn that ignites the screen. It’s no wonder she is a darling of the exploitation genre. Aside from being built like a terracotta bulldozer, she can really pour on the pure joy of playing jock hockey.

Getting into Heaven may simply be 80+ minutes of simulated sex surrounded by cornball jokes and comic asides, but it meshes the two so effortlessly that you’ll laugh as much as you leer. And when Uschi is in your eyeline, everything is bound to get steamier.

 

by John G. Nettles

18 Jul 2008

... (Or an Incredible Simulation!): I once saw an ad on the back page of this rag for an upcoming show featuring a band that billed itself as “Colorado’s #1 Widespread Panic Tribute Band!” This particular bit of hype caught my eye and continues to haunt me to this day, because it’s a very odd thing for a band to call itself. It implies that A) there are apparently enough Widespread Panic tribute bands in Colorado for there to be a clearly superior one, and B) there are enough Widespread Panic tribute bands nationwide to make a state-by-state distinction. This, in turn, leads to two inevitable questions: just how many Widespread Panic tribute bands are there in the world, and why?

Rock journalist Steven Kurutz examines the tribute band phenomenon close-up in his book Like a Rolling Stone: The Strange Life of a Tribute Band (Broadway Books, 2008). Kurutz spent a couple of years following a pair of Rolling Stones tribute bands, the East Coast’s Sticky Fingers and Canada’s the Blushing Brides, on their travels, from playing half-empty dives and wedding receptions to the occasional glory gig in Las Vegas or Amsterdam. Kurutz recalls the growth of the cottage industry in fake rock from its origins in Broadway’s Beatlemania (“not the Beatles but an incredible simulation!”) to its current state as a vast subculture, a network of barely ground-level bands and players who, week after week, leave their mundane day jobs to crisscross the country in cramped vans in order to pretend to be rock stars.

Along the way, Kurutz poses the burning question that has to be asked: why, if one is skillful and practiced enough to play like Jimmy Page or Jerry Garcia or Keith Richards, would one not direct that talent and drive toward original music which could result in real rock stardom? The answers are telling. As anyone in a band, particularly in this town, can attest, playing original music may be good for the soul, but it’s hard on the spirit (and the wallet). The guys in tribute bands have the opportunity to play the music they love for more people than just the bartender, and if that means aspiring, as the Keith for Sticky Fingers does, to be “the Keithiest Keith around,” so be it.

Kurutz’s book is alternately affectionate and sad as he documents the highs and lows of the would-be rock-star life, including the online sabotage wars between Sticky Fingers and its West Coast archnemesis of the same name, the monumental ego of a Mick Jagger who believes he’s now better than the real thing, and the bizarre remora-like experience of a band following the actual Rolling Stones’ tour schedule for an endless series of warm-up shows in sports bars around the country. (At one point, Sticky Fingers plays a gig a hundred yards from the stadium where the Stones are going on, and watches its audience trickle out, primed for the real thing.) For an unflinching look at lives spent forever on the fringe or as a cautionary tale to everyone out there polishing up Eddie Van Halen hammer-ons, Like a Rolling Stone is a fascinating read.

Originally published at Flagpole

by PopMatters Staff

18 Jul 2008

Mercury Rev
Senses on Fire [MP3]
     

Clinic
Tomorrow [Video]

PAS/CAL
Glorious Ballad of the Ignored [MP3]
     

The Walkmen
In the New Year [MP3]
     

Tea Leaf Green
Red Ribbons [MP3]
     

Ra Ra Riot
Dying Is Fine [MP3]
     

Grampall Jookabox
The Girl Ain’t Preggers [MP3]
     

Saul Williams
Convict Colony [Video]

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